YIMBYs Are Winning Local Housing Battles, but Can They Win the National Housing War?

Townhomes under construction in Mundelein, Illinois, on July 19, 2023. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

On Monday, I was in USA Today talking about the National Association of Realtors settlement and the future of U.S. housing prices. For those unwilling to click, here’s the even-shorter version: Yes, the settlement might lower realtor commissions and thus shave a few thousand bucks off a home’s all-in sales price, but Americans shouldn’t expect a reprieve from ever-increasing housing prices without far more fundamental reforms to occupational licensing, zoning and land use regulation, construction materials tariffs, and other policies that increase building costs and restrict housing supply. For frequent Capitolism readers, much of the op-ed’s thesis and evidence will sound familiar, and I normally don’t pimp my non-Dispatch work up front here (seems gauche). But I mention it because there’s a line in the op-ed—bolded below—that I’ve been meaning to expand upon here:

Research has repeatedly shown that the most effective check on skyrocketing home prices is simply to build more homes. One survey of the literature found that new construction of market-rate units in several U.S. cities moderated the prices of all types of nearby housing, both high- and low-priced. 

Recent experience shows much the same: places that have seen housing construction at rates above national or regional averages—Austin, Phoenix, Atlanta, Raleigh, Minneapolis and more—have enjoyed slower rent and home price appreciation.

This passage gets to the perhaps the biggest debate between “Yes In My Backyard” (YIMBY) advocates who want to deregulate housing markets and boost private housing development and those who have (presumably) good intentions but are far more skeptical of, or outright hostile to, such construction: whether building lots of new, market-rate housing helps Americans who can’t afford it. 

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